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Car Corner
Another Look at the New Mustang

February 1, 2004
By Scott Lewis

It has been a while since I actually took a good look at the New for 2005 Mustang. Now that the "production" version of the 2005 Mustang has been at the Detroit Auto Show, and in Motor Trend, Car and Driver, and Hot Rod magazines, it's time to compare the concept car to the production car and see how things are holding up.

The Looks

A quick glance at the production Mustang looks like what you saw in the concept car. However, when you look at them side by side you will see some glaring differences. First is the hood. The concept car has slots in it reminiscent of the 67-68 Mustang. I thought these gave the new Mustang a lot of retro character. Low and behold the production Mustang gets a flat hood. We all know how many cars get functional scoops, so it is not surprising the slots did not make it to production. Granted, the flat hood works very well with the Shelby style stripes that are showing up on many of the Mustangs in print and on the show circuit. This leaves the aftermarket a clean canvas to make a hood with slots. So you can have your stripes or turn to the aftermarket for a cooler hood. I can live with this compromise.

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If you look back to my article on what it would take to save the Camaro with a retro redesign you will see I had this to say: "I have seen plenty of current generation Camaros with 60's style stripes. The factory has even put these on some models. They look awkward because they were an afterthought. I think a tasteful stripe package would work if it was designed that way from the start. It is a lot easier to remove strips if they don't sell than to add them later because of demand. Design the car to have a nice strip package up front." I think by using a flat hood Ford has followed this idea. The new Mustang looks good with 60's Shelby style stripes. Way to go Ford!

The next item that leaps out about the production Mustang is the brake ducks. The concept car had brake ducks/scoops that where reminiscent of the Shelby style scoops, but with a much more modern look. I liked it a lot. The production Mustang doesn't get them. Oops! This is a big mistake. It is much harder to add a decent scoop to the quarter panels of a car than to add an aftermarket hood. I can only hope that they will include the scoops on higher performance versions of the Mustang, such as a Mach I, SVT Cobra or (dare we say...) Shelby version.

As long as we are looking at those missing brake scoops, we can take a look up and see the small quarter windows in the production Mustang. These look like the windows in early Shelby Mustangs. They help reduce visibility problems, though not by much. Most importantly they look good. I like them.

    
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The next thing I noticed was the taillights and exhaust cutouts. I mentioned in my original look at the new Mustang that I didn't think the exhaust would come through the valance panel like it did in the 65-66 Mustang GT and the concept car. I was right. I would still liked to have seen them try. Oh well. The taillights are larger than the small version of previous concept car pictures. They look more like 69-70 taillights than 65-66 or 67-68. No big deal here. After all, if they are not going to put in sequential taillights like those in the animation I made then it doesn't matter what they do. We can only hope they will put sequential taillight on a Shelby version of the new Mustang.

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The last thing to cover is the nose of the new Mustang. Clearly they ditched the cool looking split turn signal/fog lights. But this is not a problem. Obviously there was a cost issue with a radical light design. But the fog lights in the grill similar to the 65-68 Mustangs is a great alternative. This should be a trademark GT item to help differentiate the GT from the base model... along with the exhaust cutouts in the valance (even if they don't go completely through the valance).

The Interior

As I understand it the GT will get a "deluxe" interior and the base Mustang will have the deluxe interior as an option. Cool! This is the way it was done in the 60s. You could get the "pony" interior in the base or GT models. I think it is important to make a lot of upper class options available on the base Mustang. Save the high horsepower for the GT and other editions, but let buyers get options on the base model with as much class as they like. This will improve the likeability of the base Mustang. After all, more than half of all Mustangs sold are base V-6 models. Now those base models can be nicer cars as well.

concept_dash.jpg (49955 bytes)     prod_dash.jpg (51167 bytes)

I love the dash in the new Mustang. This is one area where the production car flat pounces over the concept car. The retro look to the main gauge pod is remarkable, even if it didn't have a driver selectable color lighting option. Very well done.

Engines

I was glad to hear that the Mustang GT is going to get 300 hp. I mentioned in my original article that the GT should get a maximum of 300 hp. Ford was obviously reading my article. It also came up with 202 hp for a new SOHC V-6 in the base Mustang. Again, just as I said, about 200 hp, but not much more is needed, in a "smooth V-6." Good going Ford. However, I would have liked to see a small V-8 available in the base Mustang, and possibly be the base engine in the GT.

Back in 65 you could get a base Mustang with two 6-cylinder engines (170 or 200 c.i.), and three V-8s (210, 225 & 271 hp.). Why not have a small V-8 with about 250-260 hp as an option on the base Mustang, and be the base engine in the GT. Then the 300 hp could be the option in the GT. Maybe this is too many choices for today's market, but maybe not. Mild V-8 performance in a base (non bad boy racer) Mustang might sell well. It worked to help sell over 600,000 Mustangs in 65. In the 80s you could get a LS Mustang with the V-8 from the GT and have a real sleeper. Can it be such a bad idea today?

Chassis

Here is where Ford really dropped the ball. The new Mustang was supposed to be based on the Lincoln LS/Ford Thunderbird chassis. Well, they ditched the upper & lower control arm front suspension for a cheaper to build McPherson strut setup, and they left out the Independent Rear Suspension (IRS) for a live axle. So where is the LS/Thunderbird platform? Ford claims that its focus groups asked Mustang fans what they really wanted and they said they wanted the live axle. Especially for drag racing. Yea, right! I wonder how they asked that question. Hmmm. "Mister Mustang Fan, would you like a new Mustang to have a simple rear end that can drag race with the best of them, or would you like to pay more for an IRS that will not handle the abuse of drag racing?" What they should have asked was, "Mister Mustang Fan, would you like a new Mustang that can handle as well as the best sport coupes the world has to offer or would your prefer we put a cheaper rearend in that would only be better when you drag race at the track?"

How many professional drag racers are there compared to sophisticated buyers in a market that is littered with coupes with IRS. In fact, I cannot think of a single car the Mustang will compete with in the market place that does not have an IRS. Bad move Ford. The new Mustang had a real shot at being a world class sport coupe. Instead Ford is catering to a small niche market of people that pour tons of money into drag racing. Those drag racers would have swapped the IRS out for a live axle if necessary, and they make up far too small a market segment then the possible sport coupe buyers that could have been attracted to the Mustang if it were truly world class.

As I understand it the Mustang was designed so that it could always accept an IRS, and the IRS will come with the high end SVT Cobra version of the Mustang. That puts the IRS out of the reach of the common man as far as price is concerned.

Conclusion

Overall I am please with the look of the Mustang. My biggest gripe is the lack of IRS in the base or GT version of the Mustang. Next month I will take a look at the Mustang's competition and we will see how wrong Ford was to cut costs so much as to leave that 40 year old design under the back end of the car.

So, do I still consider the Mustang a viable new car for myself? Well, yes. This is more emotional than practical. The BMW 330Ci is far and away a nicer car, but it is much more expensive. The G35 Coupe is also pricey if a well optioned Mustang GT can go out the door for under $30K. However, other cars in my list of possibilities seem to be better executed than the Mustang. Never the less, I am curious to test drive the new Mustang and see for myself if Ford can pull off a world class sport coupe with a great retro design. Maybe the new Mustang will be so much better than the current model that I won't be able to resist.

Ford thinks it doesn't have much competition now that the Camaro and Firebird are dead. That kind of thinking is a mistake. If Ford doesn't want to see the same fate happen to the Mustang it better take notice of the Mustang's competition. I will do just that next month.

Until then...

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